Peppers earned first-team All-America honors and also won numerous postseason awards for his solid individual play throughout the season for the Tar Heels. Two of the more prestigious honors he won were the Lombardi Award, which goes to the nation's best lineman, and the Bednarik Award, which goes to the nation's top defender. He also finished tenth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
Simmons did not receive the national attention that Peppers did, but he did earn first-team All-SEC honors and won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, which is awarded to the SEC's top blocker.
Kendall Simmons has a laugh at Friday's Peach Bowl press conference.
Both players were present for a special Peach Bowl press conference Friday where they each fielded questions about their high profile opponents. Peppers, who had 63 tackles and 9.5 sacks in 2001 said he did not want to make a big ordeal about his matchup with Simmons. "It is going to be our defense against their offense," Peppers said. "From what I have seen from him on tape and from what I have heard about him, he is a good player. He moves his feet really well to be his size. He's a good player, but I think I'm ready for the challenge of going out and competing against him."
Peppers' athleticism has allowed the UNC coaching staff to move the six-foot-six, 280-pounder around this season in the Tar Heel defense and his head coach John Bunting said the Peach Bowl will be no different. "I don't think there has been many games in the past when we haven't moved him some, so we anticipate doing some of that on New Year's Eve," Bunting added. Peppers led all defensive linemen in the nation with three interceptions.
While Peppers did not appear fired up about his upcoming challenge, Simmons was quite the opposite. In fact, the six-foot-three, 315-pounder was quite complimentary of his opponent. "I was excited when I first found out we were playing North Carolina," Simmons said. "I'm excited about playing against him. I will feel like I'm lucky if I can just touch him a couple of times during the game. He's an outstanding athlete. I haven't seen too many people who have been able to touch him, so I will feel good about myself if I can touch him a few times the whole night and keep him away from Jason (Campbell)."
Peppers will not be the All-American defensive end that Simmons will see in 2001. He went up against Syracuse's Dwight Freeney and held his own against the Big East All-American. Freeney had two sacks against the Tigers, but those came when he was lined up away from Simmons.